MANHATTAN, KAN. — Kim Mulkey said earlier in the week that she would learn a lot about her team as No. 6 Baylor headed to Kansas State to open Big 12 play.
Thursday night inside Bramlage Coliseum, the Lady Bears upped their game as the conference season began. The balance was there offensively, and the dominant defense was there from the start as Baylor topped Kansas State, 88-58, to open Big 12 play 1-0.
“You really are nervous as a coach,” the Baylor head coach said in a postgame radio interview. “You know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. We had a good nonconference season, but when you get to conference season it’s a whole ‘nother ball game. I was nervous coming off of Christmas break, going on the road after Christmas break. I thought Natalie Chou set the tone for us in the first half. I thought her confidence, her aggressiveness, she shot the big 3-pointer. It opens things up for us. We knew we’d see the zone (defense) from start to finish. Then everybody became more confident. I thought our bench, Alexis Morris and Didi Richards, those kids played yard. You wouldn’t have known they were freshmen out there.”
Mulkey said for her team to have success, post touches would have to be there on the offensive end, while the defense had to be consistent and solid. The Lady Bears were indeed successful at Kansas State as they excelled at those facets the head coach mentioned.
It was there from the start. Baylor won the tip and didn’t mess around its first possession. Against the Wildcat zone, the Lady Bears reversed the ball from one side of the court to the other to make the zone move. Then the ball was passed inside to Lauren Cox who immediately turned and found a wide open Natalie Chou on the perimeter. Swish. Chou’s 3-pointer laid the foundation for an 11-0 run to start the game for Baylor.
“Natalie came out ready to play,” junior Kalani Brown said in a postgame radio interview. “I don’t expect anything less. Natalie is a great shooter. Inside out, I thought that was the play of the game today. We got it in and whenever (the Kansas State defense) collapsed on us, we got it out and the guards made them pay.”
Kansas State didn’t score until nearly four minutes into the first quarter. Behind Brown and Lauren Cox, who finished with nine rebounds each, the Lady Bears won the battle on the boards, 41-28
In the third quarter, though, Kansas State fought back. The Wildcats outscored the Lady Bears, 23-18, in the frame. Baylor went over five minutes without a bucket and nearly four minutes without a point as a jumper by Cox at the 7:49 mark and a free throw by Brown at the 6:16 mark were the last points for the Lady Bears until Alexis Morris nailed a jumper with 2:34 to play in the third quarter. Morris finished with seven of her 13 points in the third quarter.
“We had a couple of turnovers there,” Mulkey said. “They made some pretty good shots. I thought a couple of them we guarded them good. Several of them we didn’t guard good. We were there but we had our hands down. … We weathered the storm. They cut it to 15 maybe there at one point, and Morris hit a big shot and we started to get more post touches.”
The Wildcats cut Baylor’s lead to 14 with 2:46 to play in the third quarter, but the Lady Bears answered right back. A 14-0 run through the middle of the fourth quarter propelled Baylor to a 30-point victory.
Brown led the Lady Bears with 20 points on the night off 7-of-10 shooting from the floor. It marked the eighth time the season and 14th time of Brown’s career to reach the 20-point mark in a game. Cox racked up 17 assists in addition to tying a Baylor team-high of five assists to go with three blocks. Chou, as well as Morris, finished with 13 points. All but one Lady Bear scored as Baylor shot 57.8 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the 3-point line.
“As you saw tonight, this team can shoot the ball,” Mulkey said. “We don’t have to shoot 20 to 30 3-pointers to be a good team but we can. You saw that tonight.”